ALISON HOLCOMB, left, will not be challenging Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant, right, next year.
  • ALISON HOLCOMB, left, will not be challenging Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant, right, next year.

Back in July, it appeared that Alison Holcomb, the tough ACLU lawyer who led the fight to decriminalize marijunana in Washington State, had found her next campaign: a run for Seattle City Council against incumbent Kshama Sawant in Seattle's new 3rd District.

The idea of a progressive-on-progressive fight was polarizing—at least among the people in this city who follow council races 17 months ahead of the next council elections. And things immediately got heated. Holcomb made some statements about Sawant's rhetoric being "all about 'you are a capitalist pig,' no matter what the size of your business"; Sawant responding by saying that if Holcomb "wants to work on a progressive agenda, then I invite her to work with those of us who are already working on it."

Well, Holcomb's certainly going to be working on something progressive next year, but in a different realm than the Seattle City Council and its politics. As The New York Times just reported, Holcomb has taken a job running the ACLU's nationwide campaign to end mass incarceration—a job funded by a $50 million grant from George Soros's Open Society Foundation.

In an e-mail sent just now to supporters of her council candidacy, Holcomb expressed gratitude to them "for giving me the courage and confidence to believe that I could win a city council race and serve the people of the City of Seattle well," but described an opportunity that she couldn't pass up.

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"A few weeks ago," Holcomb said, "I was called to a meeting with Anthony Romero, the executive director of the national ACLU. He informed me that the organization would be receiving an unprecedented $50 million grant... And he told me he wanted me to lead the campaign. As I think you know, all of my work on ending marijuana prohibition, and my work on broader drug policy reform efforts—like the passage of our state's 911 Good Samaritan drug overdose prevention law and Seattle and King County's Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion project—has been aimed at ending the U.S. War on Drugs. And ending the U.S. War on Drugs is a first step toward ending our disgraceful status as the number one jailer in the world, with one in every 100 adults behind bars, disproportionately Americans of color. I find it intolerable that our nation represents just 5 percent of the world's population but houses 25 percent of its inmates. Something is very, very wrong in the land of the free and the brave."

She continued: "Never in a million years would I have thought this opportunity would arise, and that I would be personally invited to seize it. I hope you understand that I simply cannot resist this challenge."